I have just come back up the road from three days of a poetry festival at Goolwa, a town at the mouth of the Murray.
On the drive back, cows crowding in fields, in black and white (friesians?). A flock of galahs circling the hillside and the dam. Calves, lambs, small horses. Vines in autumn modes. Dangerous drivers on holiday Monday.
As part of the festival’s closing Lionel Fogarty reminded us that English is not the original language of this place, that there’s a sense all English is obscene here. He reminded us it was a white festival.
Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island, of course, are contested places.
I took some time of from the poeting. Saw the mouth of the Murray, the breakers of the southern ocean, the many flocks of birds. Walked on the Goolwa barrage, watched the dredging. The huge problems of water and country, and the failure of policy and practice.
The festival raised and confirmed a number of things for me - positives and other. I got the impression this was the case for some other people who were there as well.
Michael Farrell, Bel Schenk and I did a session on Out of the Box. It wasn’t hugely attended (Sunday morningitis?) but it was a good free-flowing discussion. One woman remarked that she had just come from a master class in which the ‘master’ was encouraging ‘fine writing’, however, she said she preferred the kind of writing our anthology contained. Later, someone told me they were already using the anthology to teach in writers’ group classes.
We were sitting on a bench, Michael and I, looking at the river, when a pelican slowly glided by just above us - that huge grace. We both stopped talking. It was a good thing to see.
Bronwyn Lea launched Dark Bright Doors for me here. She emphasised the noir, the dark and surreal - a great take on the book. I was able to give my own author’s viewpoint, reclaiming intention for a short moment around language and place. Also, the short poem, which, we agreed later, is given short shrift in Australia - a bloke’s effect (the length issue?), distances, or an effect of sprawl?
There were names and tendencies in Australian poetry that were obviously not there at the festival. Recent and upcoming anthologies indicate some lines are being drawn in some of the sand, if, indeed, they were ever not. In other words, perhaps this is always so, and best not to linger on it.
I had to take a break from the poeting - there were panels on the ‘problem of poetry’, and the like. I admit, I ran from a lot of this, having heard and said much of like in the past.
Two important words for poetry are - teaching, and libraries.
Someone asked me to sign my book, someone I did not know. She told me what was important for her about my work was that it wasn’t afraid to venture into the abstract, the surreal, unlike, she seemed to be saying, the kind of descriptive, well-made, syntactically straight-forward poetry that is certainly popular at the moment. That was interesting.
On Sunday evening of April 25th as we were leaving the Corio Hotel, we were bailed up by a young man wearing his sailor’s dress uniform and his medals, from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Solomons and Timor. He said he was interested in poetry and wanted to know more. We wanted to know more from him about what he did at sea. He worked with helicopters on transport ships. So, we talked a while about poetry, about the navy.
On Saturday we were going to set up our breakfast outside on the wooden table where we were staying. A family of magpies moved in before we could do it, took over the tables and chairs. So we left them to it, their songs and movement.
Jen Mills has put together a great sound atlas of the festival, including one poem I read, about the river.
Birds and water are very much the issue, especially down at the mouth of the Murray. Birds and water are not nostalgic, romantic subjects for poetry.